American Animals tells the true story of “Transylvania Book Heist.” The fact that most people are unfamiliar with this story helps sell one of the themes of the film: fact vs. fiction. This was a central theme of the filmmaker—Bart Layton—previous film, The Imposter.
As with any heist film, it walks step by step of the crew planning the operation. But this film isn’t about Danny Ocean and a team of professionals. It’s about a group of young college kids who have watched Ocean’s Eleven and given each other Reservoir Dogs codenames as inspiration for their job.
In addition to being a heist film, it in a way a documentary. The real-life men—now in their 30s—are interviewed about the events often giving inconsistent perspectives about what happened. These interviews are woven back into the dramatized version of the story. The unreliable narrator aspect is reinforced throughout the film. Voiceover of one character describing a situation while the character onscreen does something else. Another scene is a hybrid of two points of view at once. The film continually questions what point of view is true and why some characters even choose to believe a narrative that might not be.
— Sundance 2018